« VorigeDoorgaan »
plagues, as amazing as the unparalleled crimes that drew them down upon him. Thus these tender plants, cut off in the bud, sprung up again and flourished, and bore such fruits as their circumstances were capable of-the confession of their blood, though not of their tongues: by which they and their memory are blessed. And thus the blessed Jesus, after sojourning in a strange country, returned to enlighten his own, with that doctrine, which, from the very first setting out of its author into the world, was manured with blood, grew under persecutions, and by the fate attending it, proved, that to die in its defence, was not to lose a life, but to save it. This is, in truth the quickest and surest passage, from death unto life; from a life, in the midst of which we are in death; to a life, which is so indeed; life immortal, and full of glory.
FIRST SUNDAY AFTER CHRISTMAS.
(Text taken from the Epistle for the Day.) The glorious privileges conferred upon us by the birth of Jesus Christ, are illustrated, in the Epistle for the present Sabbath, by the grace which brings strangers and aliens into the adoption of God's more immediate family. Let us suggest some few reflections, which may tend to make us sensible of this illustrious privilege.
1. The first of these reflections St. John proposes to us: Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God !-Upon us, whether Jews or Gentiles, bond or free, learned or ignorant, high or low, rich or poor. So differently does the King of heaven dispense his favours, from the manner in use with his vicegerents upon earth. These, though exalted in dignity only, but still the same in nature, admit pot those of their fellow-creatures to make up their train, whom either meanness
of fortune, or deformity of person, has rendered objects of pity. Yet even these the Son of God is not ashamed to call brethren’; even these the Almighty Father does not disdain for his children ; but contracts the closest alliance between the majesty of God, and that dust and ashes framed by him into Man. In common adoptions, the persons adopted are either distant kindred, or generally such as had somewhat very extraordinary to recommend them; but we, besides the meanness of our condition by nature, had no deserts to boast ; nothing but what might raise an aversion against us; no privileges, but what had been previously abused to the Giver's dishonour. And yet, from this fallen state of guilt and unworthiness, misery and despair, we are translated to favour, and a hope full of immortality ; from strangers and enemies, to friends and children; from being vessels of wrath fitted to destruction,' we are embraced in the arms of his mercy, and cherished in the bosom of a Father. So much more tender is his affection, so much more kind and free our adoption, than any other ever was, or could be.
And, as more free, so is it more beneficial : for to what could the great ones upon earth advance their adscititious children? uncertain honours and perishing possessions. Alas ! how poor and little things are these, in comparison with the favour of a God unchangeable, a treasure in heaven, nay a crown of glory! In a word, to discern this wonderful love in some tolerable measure, let us endeavour to frame some idea of the only-begotten Son of God; and then consider, that his bliss and glory are reflected down upon the adopted sons. So near approaches are permitted us, so honourable now is our condition, from the most wretched that could be; that, as He who is love itself, could not give less, it does not appear how we could receive more, and still continue to be men.
2. Secondly. The consideration of our being God's chil. dren is a great encouragement in our duty. This secures us from all those instances of rigour and arbitrary power, which are imposed, to preserve the authority of the commander, and keep those of inferior condition at an awful distance. But the power of every wise parent is tempered with tenderness towards children; and requires such acts of obedience only, as are fit for their condition, and such as carry along with them their own motives to compliance.
This likewise takes off that horror wherewith men, under an absolute and imperious master, are apt to be confounded; and begets a reasonable presumption of kind allowances at a father's hand. It is upon these accounts, that St. Paul prefers the gospel economy above the law; calling the former the spirit of bondage unto fear, but the latter the spirit of adoption, whereby we cry Abba, Father.' [Rom. viii. 15.] That showed men their guilt, burdened their consciences with horror and confusion; but the Gospel alone shows God in goodness and mercy, reconciled by the death of his Son. This lays aside the terrible aspect of the taskmaster and the judge; and brings the mild indulgent countenance of the parent to succeed in its place. Thus the Psalmist describes him: Like as a father pitieth his own children, so is the Lord merciful unto them that fear him; for he knoweth whereof we are made, he remembereth that we are but dust.' [ciii. 13, 14.] This gives us confidence, that he, for many wanderings, will not yet utterly cast us off, provided we do but amend at last; and that, whenever we return, it is not possible for us to desire more passionately to be well received, than he does, that we would give him the opportunity of showing, how kindly he is disposed to receive us. Much more does this assure us, that our failings will be kindly interpreted, our weaknesses pitied, every thing, not directly voluntary, not charged in account to us; but our honest, though very poor, endeavours to please, graciously accepted. For none but Egyptian tyrants demand brick without straw; and fathers, least of any, require from children, what they are sensible it is not in their power to perform.
Hence then we are plainly directed, that the spirit most becoming a Christian in his duty, is such as inspires vigour and life, hope and joy, a holy confidence, a cheerful and affectionate obedience. To carry the torment of fear about perpetually, and act upon principles put into us by the scourge, is the misery of slaves, unworthy the character of freemen, and by no means agreeable either to the dignity of a Christian, or the honour of God: for God is most glorified by our service, when it springs from thankfulness and love; when we are fearful to offend, because loth to displease. This is the true temper of every good servant, much more of every good child, who cannot consider his parent's indulgence, without inferring
from thence his own obligations to serve him with faithfulness and gladness. And therefore, it were in us most inexcusable to do otherwise, who have, as Christians, the highest obligation of this kind; a Father, whose goodness is infinite; and a service, that is perfect freedom.
3. This consideration, that we are the sons of God, should make us exceeding ambitious to be like God. Now, how far we are from any possibility of being like God in our natural frame, needs not be said ; but, in the disposition of the soul, we may arrive at some resemblance of him. Holiness and purity, justice and charity, and all his communicable excellencies, may be drawn, though in miniature only, upon our hearts. And to such strokes of likeness St. Paul exhorts, when he bids us be followers of God as dear children ;' and our Blessed Saviour, when commanding the love of our enemies, that we may
• be the children of our Father which is in heaven.' But St. John (1 John iii. 2.] hath a most remarkable text to this purpose: · Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be; but we know that, when he shall
appear, we shall be like him ; for we shall see him as he is.' Now if our happiness hereafter will consist in being like God, and that likeness will follow upon our nearer approach to him; then it is plain, that our constant care and truest happiness in the meanwhile, must be to see, and know, and imitate, as much of Him as we can. And if it be remembered, that there is no middle race of men, but all are either the children of God, or children of the devil; and that the doing or not doing righteousness, is a manifest mark to which of these two every man belongs ;- this is enough to show the necessity of a good life, for attracting our heavenly Father's love. For sure, to preserve this divine relation inviolate between God and us, I need not say, it is necessary we be not children of the devil.
4. If all Christians be the children of God, then are they likewise all mutually allied to one another; and that, in such degree, as induces the strongest engagements to justice, and peace, and charity. When Moses interposed between two Israelites, he thought this would have been motive sufficient for making up the quarrel : Sirs, ye are brethren; why do ye wrong one to another?' The mischiefs of strife and division are but too many and too manifest, in people of the greatest
distance from each other : but when the venom works under one and the same roof; when they who hung upon the same breasts, are infected; the whole house is presently in a flame, and the feuds grow too unnatural and too scandalous to be borne. And yet even this is not more heinous, more absurd, than it is among Christians, who have one Saviour, one Spirit, one Father ;' who are purchased with the same blood; fed at the same table: born anew by the same grace; and, consequently, are one flock, one family, and ought to be of one heart, and of one soul. These near degrees of kindred should, therefore, be well thought upon : for, were they not forgotten, it is not easy to conceive, how envy and malice, contention and cruelty, should ever get footing, where the doctrine and pro fession of the Gospel had already taken place.
5. We have, from this relation to God, an excellent support under afflictions. These are represented unto us under the quality of chastisements; and the corrections of good parents are, for the most part, very gentle. And many a time, when provocations have lifted up the hand, nature steps in, and is sure to prevent or moderate the blow. In like manner, hath our heavenly Father his tendernesses, his yearnings, and his mercies. He declares he does not afflict willingly, nor grieve the children of men. His compassions are said to exceed those of the most affectionate mothers; and, though his wisdom restrain him from such indiscreet fondness as would spare, when we might profit by punishment; yet even then, when justice must exert, mercy abates the strokes, and wisdom directs the remainder to excellent purposes. So that, provided we submit with patience, till his ends are answered upon us, it is even good for us, that we were in trouble. And, although the light of God's countenance may retire behind a thick black cloud for a while; yet all the Father will shine forth again, not only in a happy issue out of sorrows, but in a glorious reward for all our afflictions.
6. Lastly, This relation to God gives us assured hopes of a gracious answer to our prayers, and sufficient supplies of all necessary provisions. With regard to the former, our blessed Saviour forbids the use of vain repetitions,' (Matt. vi. 7, 8.] upon this consideration, that our · Father knoweth what things we have need of, before we ask him.' Asked indeed he will be; not for the state and formality of the thing; but to keep